Unit 10 Effective Listening Skills
Define the process of listening.
Explain barriers to effective listening.
Explain methods for improving listening skills.
Complete a listening skills survey.
Participate is a listening activity.
“If speaking is silver, then listening is gold.” -- Turkish Proverb
“The principle of listening,
someone has said, is to develop a
big ear rather than a big mouth.”
-- Howard G. Hendricks
Before we get into the techniques of effective listening, let’s define what we mean by the
word “listening.” Listening - the process of receiving, constructing meaning from, and responding
to spoken and/or nonverbal messages.
Without a doubt, listening is an activity that most of us are not really taught how to do
effectively. We tend to be overly concerned with the outgoing sounds, rather than the incoming
signals -- for that’s what they are. Listening is as important, maybe even more important, than
speaking. Without proper listening skills it is difficult to communicate effectively with others.
We’ve all met the person who talks a mile a minute and doesn’t really want to hear what others
have to say. Is this person actually communicating? The answer is NO. If you do all of the
talking and never listen, you will never really communicate very well with others. In this unit we
will investigate effective listening skills, barriers to effective listening, and methods of improving
our own listening skills.
Barriers to Effective Listening
Many people daydream when they are supposed to be listening. Instead of focusing on the
speaker and attempting to learn something -- or even mentally composing a response to what is
being said -- they will think about a party from last weekend or an upcoming camping trip.
Daydreaming effectively closes down the possibility of retaining information. If the speaker is
being paid to present information to you, time and money is being wasted.
Mentally Arguing with the Speaker
Instead of listening to what someone is saying, a poor listener will disagree mentally and
think about a rebuttal. People will actually play out a complete argument in their own mind at the
same time they should be paying attention to what the other person is really trying to say. This
kind of mental arguing is very damaging to the communication process and will often lead to
misunderstanding and conflicts between people. The effective listener will wait until the speaker
is totally finished with hir or her statement before making an evaluation or judgement prior to
Desire to Talk
The most common barrier to effective listening is jumping into a conversation before the
other person has finished. This includes talking loudly to others in the audience. This is
conversational bad manners. It is intrusive and disruptive. Granted, most of us feel more involved
and active when we are talking. Even so, it’s always good manners to remember that listening is
just as important as talking.
Lack of Interest
Lack of interest in the speaker’s topic does create a difficult situation. How does the saying
go? Deal with it. Good listeners try to find useful information in any presentation or message. A
listener with a negative attitude about the message or the speaker will have a tough time being
effective as a listener. A good way to increase listening effectiveness is to maintain a positive
attitude about the speaker and really work at listening for useful information.
Negative Reaction to the Speaker’s Appearance or Delivery Style
Some listeners are quick to find fault, any fault, with the speaker’s dress, voice, or
This tendency to hasty judgement makes it difficult to concentrate on the message the speaker is
trying to deliver. This happens frequently with radio personalities. Often, a speaker’s looks are
totally different from that implied by the sound of the voice. The old adage, “you can’t judge a
book by its cover,” applies here. Because someone appears odd, different, or doesn’t match with
the mental image you had conjured up, doesn’t mean that the message will be ineffective or
unrewarding. Keep an open mind when listening to people -- you may be surprised at what you
To get the most from a speaker’s presentation
you must listen carefully and avoid making
hasty judgements. (You might even learn
Methods of Improving Your Listening Skills
Improving your listening skills requires commitment and effort. The payoff will be well worth
it. You will learn more, comprehend more, and be a better communicator -- listening or speaking.
Key Points for Effective Listening
1. When it’s your turn to listen -- Stop Talking!
People cannot talk and listen at the same time -- it does not work!
2. Identify with the Speaker
This means putting yourself in the speaker’s place. Try to really understand the speaker’s
view point. What is the motivation behind the message? How do his or her views match up
with yours? What is the speaker’s agenda?
3. Ask Questions
When you ask questions, two good things happen: First, it fuels your own interest level. If
you are in the presence of a good speaker, meaningful questions should bring you some
significant added information. Second, your questions may encourage the speaker to expand
on the topic of the speech. Be careful not to ask too many questions. This could make you
look like you are trying to dominate the speaker, and other members in the audience may
become irritated. Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked. If
you have a question, chances are that others in the group have the same question.
Focus all of your attention on the speaker and the message being delivered. Being able to
concentrate is definitely a skill -- one that we all need in today’s information rich world.
5. Show the speaker that you want to listen
This applies primarily to one-on-one or small group discussions. Look and act interested in
the speaker’s comments. Listen to understand. Reserve your arguments until it’s your turn to
speak.With this approach, most speakers will actually communicate directly with you as they
present their message. This will make the listening experience much more meaningful to you.
6. Control your emotions and your temper
Uncontrolled emotions and/or temper can cause misunderstanding when you are trying to
listen. If you allow your feelings to interfere with your rationality your listening skills will nosedive and your comprehension will be reduced. Also, it is unlikely that you will retain the attention
of the speaker (see item 5, above).
7. Eliminate distractions
Avoid fidgeting with pens, notebooks, or other stuff. If it’s your responsibility to handle
audience control, close the door to reduce outside noises. Make sure everyone in the audience
is seated, quiet, and paying attention. It is difficult to concentrate on a presentation when there
are distractions from others in the room. Typically, etiquette dictates that people should not
enter or leave the room after the speaker has started speaking. This practice may vary depending
on the locale and situation.
8. Look for areas of agreement
Listening for areas of agreement will make the speaker’s message more meaningful for you
and will also make the speaker more comfortable; people can tell if you agree or disagree with
what is being said.
9. Avoid jumping to conclusions and making hasty evaluations
If you are using your mind and attention-span to formulate conclusions before the speaker is
finished you may not hear the complete message. You may end up making incorrect conclusions
and leave with the wrong message. This is a trap that catches many listeners. It’s the same as
leaving the theater before the movie ends, or the baseball game before the last inning ends -just to beat the parking lot jam. You may miss the best part of the whole show. You cannot
evaluate someone’s message without hearing it completely.
10. Listen for the main points
Speakers may present many details in a message. Try to concentrate on the main points
being made. This will help you develop a clear understanding of what the real message is.
11. Take notes
Taking notes may not always be possible, but when it is note taking can help you to concentrate
on the main points. Don’t try to record every word, just get the main ideas.
Listening Skills Survey
Rate yourself on each of the following listening characteristics.
Rating Scale: 1 = Usually, 2 = Sometimes, 3 = Never
When listening to someone speaker -- in a speech, or during a one-on-one conversation, do
Mentally argue with the speaker
Try to dominate the conversation
Ask inappropriate questions
Always become bored
Show lack of interest in the speaker
Have trouble concentrating
Talk to others during the speech
Draw conclusions based on the speaker’s dress
10. Draw conclusions based on the speaker’s mannerisms
11. Draw conclusions based on the speaker’s speaking style
12. Fidget with things
13. Become overly emotional
14. Fall asleep
15. Lose your temper
16. Automatically look for areas of disagreement
Continued on the next page:
18. Concentrate on details while missing the main point
19. Ignore the speaker
20. Make jokes about the speaker
Good Listening Skills
Average Listening Skills
Poor Listening Skills